Free Lesson + 10 Facts You May Not Know about the Emancipation Proclamation
“All persons held as slaves…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
On September 22, 1862, in the second year of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, the rail-splitter known as Honest Abe would earn another famous nickname as the Great Emancipator with these words from the Emancipation Proclamation. To celebrate 160 years since it was written, let’s take a closer look at facts you may not know about this presidential proclamation that remains one of the most influential documents in American history.
1. Although announced on September 22, the executive order didn’t go until effect until January 1, 1863.
2. The Civil War raged on for another 27 months after the Emancipation Proclamation became law. The War Between the States concluded on April 9, 1865, upon Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
3. The Emancipation Proclamation changed the legal status of more than 3.5 million people from slaves to free men and women.
4. The ten states listed as “in rebellion” to the Emancipation Proclamation were Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.
5. When Lincoln first shared his idea with those he trusted, Secretary of State William Seward was initially speechless before sharing fears of anarchy throughout the south and foreign intervention.
6. Seward later advised Lincoln to not announce the proclamation until after a major Union victory, so it wouldn’t appear as a “last shriek of retreat.” September 22 was five days after the Union successfully stood up to the Confederates at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle in American military history.
7. In a letter to Horace Greeley one month before the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln wrote, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
According to Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, “This letter, was in truth, an attempt to position the impending announcement in terms of saving the Union, not freeing slaves as a humanitarian gesture. It was one of Lincoln's most skillful public relations efforts, even if it has cast longstanding doubt on his sincerity as a liberator.”
8. The proclamation had a significant international impact. For example, Britain, which had waged a campaign against slavery, would certainly not step in to protect the Confederacy, and the Confederacy’s hopes of gaining official recognition from other nations was dashed.
9. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union’s victory in the Civil War, the freedom of all slaves wasn’t official until the 13th amendment declared, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The Thirteenth Amendment was proclaimed on December 18, 1865, officially ending forced labor in the states of New Jersey, Kentucky, and Delaware.
10. As we are keenly aware, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t put an end to racial discrimination in the United States. 2022 also marks the 65th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, African American students who attended their first full day of classes at the previously all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, on September 25, 1957. Although admitted, the nine student endured physical and verbal abuse throughout the year.
For more information about the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War, check out our free lesson from the LIFEPAC 8th Grade History & Geography curriculum.